2.25.2012

Dog City: Rosa Moves to Town

I have been dreaming of the day when I would cross paths with a picture book set in Stockholm! I have at last found one, and may even have found a few more -- but will not be certain until my holds come in at the library.

The canine titular character in Barbro Lindgren's Rosa Moves to Town has just moved to the city, which is "not at all like their old home." On her walks Rosa discovers all sorts of interesting dogs, babies, and  intriguing discarded item on the pavement. Rosa's interest in small objects is her downfall, however. She ingests part of a dog toy and must undergo surgery at the veterinarian hospital. The surgery is successful

Given that it is set in one of my favorite cities, I can't help but wish this was a better book, although in fairness it is possible something might have been lost in the translation. The story is a bit disjointed but dog lovers and dog owners will probably find something to enjoy. (Full disclosure: I am not a dog lover.) I did like the way the book opened by drawing our attention to a part of the city that people ignore, but is fascinating for dogs: the sidewalk. From Rosa's perspective: the "chewing gum, pebbles, corks and stale hot-dog buns -- now that was fun!"

Eva Eriksson's colored pencil illustrations are appealing and I adore the opening image of Stockholm across the water. Most of the illustrations are closeups of the dogs but there is a nice one of Rosa on a walk in Gamla stan.

If you love dogs or just really, really want a picture book set in Stockholm, you might want to check Rosa Moves to Town out from the library.

Want More?
Playing by the Book has a great round-up of Swedish picture books in English translation.

2.15.2012

Green City: Central Park Serenade

I wonder in how many homes outside of New York City a book like Laura Godwin's Central Park Serenade finds itself? Do libraries in Phoenix or Dallas order a copy for their collections? By now this is a moot point, as the book is out of print. It must still find its way into the hands of many children around NYC, though, since I see the Brooklyn Library has 18 copies, several of which are currently checked out.

But, I babble.

Central Park Serenade is a serene book. Needless to say, it is a survey of the parks many features, from the horse-drawn carriages to the zoo to the sailing of toy boats. Barry Root's sunshine-filled illustrations (they made me want to start singing, "All in a golden afternoon...") follow a boy carrying his boat through the park as he passes many notable sites and activities, some grand, like the zoo, others small, like the ice cream carts. The text And the pigeons coo/And the big dogs bark/And the noises echo through the park is repeated throughout the rhyming text. There is a focus on the people and sounds of the park, rather than the inanimate sights: parents, drummers, baseball players, etc., which I appreciated -- after all the city park is what it is because of the people who bring it to life.

The end pages contain a map of the park. Maps are always a big hit with my boys. There are also many pictures with buses and taxis, also an important feature for my little guys. Personally, I was immediately struck by the fact that the protagonist of the narrative lives in an apartment in which his bedroom overlooks Central Park. That is some serious real estate. I wonder how many other New York parents notice the real estate in picture books. My own sons are still blissfully aware that their own view is not exactly going to bring in the big money.

I hope Central Park Serenade finds an audience outside of New York City as many of the experiences depicted are not limited to Central Park. Plus, I imagine kids in the country would enjoy seeing what a city park is like.

Want More?
Try the picture book The Pirate in Central Park.
Early Chapter Books about Pee-Wee and his squirrel friends having adventures in Central Park are quite delightful. I reviewed the series here.
Read a book about Pale Male in Central Park. I reviewed three of them.

Little Kid says: Read the bus page, again.

2.12.2012

Pediferous City: Betty Lou Blue

Before I go any further, I must confess that I recently found several typos in recent posts in which I accidentally used "your" instead of "you're". This is so embarrassing! So if you noticed that error and said to yourself, "I can't believe she did that. Tsk, tsk, tsk," rest assured I do know the difference between "your" and "you're." Sometimes when typing we all make mistakes, but that does not diminish my embarrassment! Argh! I hope I have corrected them all now, but if you ever see such an error, by all means, point it out to me!

Betty Lou Blue has gigantic feet and although her mother assures her that beauty comes from within, it's hard to get past the teasing she must endure from bullies like Jimmy Jack Jones. One day, during a sudden snow storm, Betty Lou must decide whether or not to use the power of her snowshoe-like feet for good or leave her tormentors to their fate. This is a children's book so you can guess her choice.

I'm not a very good judge of poetry, but Nancy Crocker's rhyming text seems adequate. However,  it is Boris Kulikov's vibrant and appealing illustrations which make checking out this book worthwhile. There is something so magical about watching the snow fall over the city -- everything looks instantly clean and fresh. The kids in this book do what all city kids do as soon as the snow starts to come down: they head to the park. There isn't anything in the text that necessarily sets the story in the city, but the choice to do so works very well. The image of Betty Lou gazing out the upper story window at the swiftly falling snow collecting on rooftops and window grates is one every city dweller can relate to.

I thought Betty Lou Blue conveyed a useful message in an imaginative way and if your library has it on the shelves, it would be a cozy winter read. Not that NYC is experiencing winter this year, we just skipped right to an endless early spring.

Want More?
Read an interview with the author at Seven Impossible Things.
Visit the illustrator's website or the author's website.
Read a review with some of the poetry at Big A little a.
I also enjoyed the Kulikov-illustrated book, The Castle on Hester Street.

Little Kid says: They are stuck in the snow.

2.11.2012

Subway City: Friday's Journey

My kids have some sort of superhuman radar when it comes to locating books about trains. One of the books they insisted on bringing home from the library a while back was Friday's Journey. It just happened to be set in the city, too.

In Ken Rush's Friday's Journey, Chris' parents are divorced and his dad has come to pick him up for their Friday journey, which is a subway ride to Dad's place, where he spends the weekend. During the train ride, Chris imagines the places the train could take him: places he used to go with both his parents. In the end, he realizes he can still enjoy those places just with Dad.

The story fell a little short for me, but I imagine it has a place among the targeted audience. However, there are a number of specific subway experiences that my young listeners grabbed on to, which is why I'm including a review on this blog. For example: the distant lights of the subway in the tunnel, the experience of watching the tracks out the front window, the screeching noise of the train stopping in the station. The city is obviously New York City, but it is never mentioned by name and because of the book's theme of living with divorced parents this book will find an audience outside the local one.

Want More?
My favorite book about a dad and his sons riding the subway is the ingenious Subway by Christopher Niemann.

Little Kid says: Where is that train going?

2.07.2012

Imaginary City: Cookiebot!

In Katie Van Camp's CookieBot!: A Harry and Horsie Adventure a not-so innocent attempt to sneak a cookie from the cookie jar unleashes the fearsome, gigantic, uncontrollable cookie-loving robot, CookieBot! With CookieBot out of control and heading toward the Empire Sweets Cafe, Harry's only hope is his best friend and soft, cuddly companion, Horsie. Will they save the city? Will they get a glass of milk? Read and find out!

The story does not reveal if Harry and Horsie's real life home is in the city, but that information is really not very important. Although there are nods to New York City, the city in CookieBot! is pure imagination. After all, any good futuristic science fiction tale with an over sized villain takes place in the city, right? Think Godzilla! Think... okay, I can't think of any more, but my point is that in our popular imagination, giant robots do not crash through the woods or the flower garden. They terrorize innocent urban populations who run down streets flanked by skyscrapers!

How can one not enjoy the ultra-cool modern retro style of Lincoln Agnew's illustrations? The restrained yet bold color palette in no way feels limiting, instead reminding one of awesome B movies, pop art and old school comic books. The city, though a result of a young boy's imagination, is rich with details like scrolled iron work, mish-mashed bricks and flashing light bulbs. The humorous text on the street signs and billboards adds further dimension to the story.

CookieBot!: A Harry and Horsie Adventure is so much fun. It's a great read aloud for parents like me who love to ham it up and great for kids like mine who are into mayhem. Enjoy!

Want More?
Read the first adventure, Harry and Horsie (in which we see, yes, Harry lives in the city).
Visit the author's website.
Visit the illustrator's website.
This book reminded me of another retro-robot-in-the-city (I smell a new picture book genre in the making!) book I reviewed: Oh No!
Watch the trailer.
Big Kid says: Awesome! Little Kid says: Read it, again! Again!

2.05.2012

Panel City: Shouting Out About Books!

Yesterday I had the very great pleasure of being on a panel at the New York Public Library in which the discussion centered on the different ways book professionals (authors, illustrators, librarians, booksellers, etc.) communicate about books.

"Hold it right there!" you are thinking, "Why were you included in panel of book professionals?"

Okay, you got me.  It's true that in no way do I consider myself a book professional. I was there as the "parent blogger" representative. And as a parent blogger, I communicate to others -- presumably other parents -- about books.

I enjoyed the experience and as usually happens when book lovers gather to discuss books, there was not enough time to discuss... um, well... books. One of the topics which fell victim to the clock was how exactly parent bloggers tell the public about books. 

Fortunately I have a blog where I can engage in the very self-indulgent act of talking about whatever I wish (fortunately you are able, at this point, to click away from this site if I'm too boring). So here's a few thoughts I had rolling around in my head:

1. One of the terms that kept getting tossed around was that that book professionals are "gatekeepers." While I agree that this is true for librarians and others, I don't consider myself, as a parent blogger, a gatekeeper to the world of books. When trying to decided on a catchy phrase that would describe how I feel about the parent blogger position, I decided I liked the term, "signpost."

I'm imagining one of those large hands with the pointer finger like this:


Or maybe a signpost that leads you different ways, when I write posts about different kinds of books (just to confuse you):



A signpost points you in a specific direction(s), but you, as the traveler can choose to go one way or another: pick up one book or another. Unlike a gatekeeper, I don't decided which books are available for you to choose (e.g. at the library or in a bookstore). 

2. I don't write, what I consider to be reviews, on my parent blog. Over here at Storied Cities, that's another matter, but on my parent blog when I recommend a book a write a soundbite for it. This is for a several reasons: a) because I don't really want to write lengthy reviews covering plot points and other details; b) others have already written reviews, which are easy to find if someone wants more info on a particular book (ah, the magic of Google); c) checking out a book from the library is risk-free. I don't encourage people to spend $20 on a book they haven't read yet, good review or not; d) parents coming to my blog are not (for the most part) coming specifically for book recommendations (more on this in Point 3); and finally e) surfers of the internet and many parents with small children about to spill a cup of milk all over the new couch like brevity (a description which does not apply to this post!).

3.) Even though parents are not generally coming to my parent blog for book recommendations, parent blogs are an important way of communicating about books and here's why:
  • Parents (as opposed to children) are the ones who check out and buy picture books, early readers and - to a certain extent - middle grade fiction. I don't pretend to know anything about the publishing industry, but I imagine it is the parents' wallets that put kids books on best sellers list. If I'm wrong, please tell me in the comment section, I love to be corrected and learn new things!
  • Parents who come to a blog such as mine are coming for things to do with their kids. My site traffic tells me that my Indoor and Educational Activities are what bring readers to my blog, yet guess what? My book posts are the most commented upon (on?) posts! My recent post, on how to find children's book has quickly become one of my most popular posts, receiving more hits in a week than some posts receive in a year!  I am incredibly flattered that so many readers referred to the post on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. All of this means:
  • Parents are interested in finding books other than Dr. Seuss, Goodnight Moon, etc. but they don't necessarily go to book blogs to do so. Book blogs aren't necessarily read by a large parent audience (this is a generalization, obviously there are parents, like me. who read blogs dedicated to books), but blogs about a variety of parent-related issues are aimed solely at the children's book buyer: PARENTS.
So the main message is that book pros can communicate to parents (the gatekeepers for children!) through venues not entirely dedicated to books. Libraries, schools and bookstores will always remain the most important ways to find books, but don't forget that talking about books for children can also be done alongside talk about homemade catapults, math games and getting the kids to eat a healthful breakfast!

I would love to hear more from you about this! Do you think parent blogs or other blogs written my non-book professionals have a place in the book conversation? Maybe since I'm not trained in book reviews I should stick to sippy cups? How can librarian, schools, author/illustrators and bookstores work with bloggers to promote books?

Please add to the conversation in the comments section of this post.



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